Pilot strike at Wilmington company could delay Amazon, DHL deliveries

About 250 pilots who fly for the cargo carrier ABX Air, which operates flights for Amazon and DHL, went on strike Tuesday in Wilmington. According to a public relations firm for the union, the move cancelled about 75 flights. CHUCK HAMLIN
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About 250 pilots who fly for the cargo carrier ABX Air, which operates flights for Amazon and DHL, went on strike Tuesday in Wilmington. According to a public relations firm for the union, the move cancelled about 75 flights. CHUCK HAMLIN

Pilots for a Wilmington-based cargo airline that fly for Amazon and DHL went on strike Tuesday, potentially causing delivery delays just days before the crucial Black Friday shopping holiday begins.

Air Transport Services Group officials said they sought a court order in Cincinnati’s U.S. District Court ordering the 250 pilots who picketed Tuesday to go back to work, calling it an “illegal work stoppage.”

ATSG president and CEO Joe Hete told the Dayton Daily News he hoped the strike would not last long.

“Hopefully, sane minds will prevail, and we’ll get this resolved shortly,” Hete said.

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The striking pilots who fly for ABX Air, a subsidiary of ATSG, are members of Airline Professionals Association of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 1224.

The strike cancelled about 80 flights at Wilmington Air Park and the DHL hub in Cincinnati, according to the union. The cargo carrier operates 45 flights a day for DHL and 35 for Amazon.

A person familiar with the situation at the Wilmington Air Park told the Dayton Daily News that Amazon planned to ground its flights Wednesday at the Wilmington Air Park. Hete declined to comment on the status of any flights.

An Amazon spokeswoman, Kelly Cheeseman, did not immediately respond to a question about flight plans, but said, “We work with a variety of carriers and are confident in our ability to serve customers.”

Amazon’s relationship with ATSG is still young.

In March, ATSG announced that Amazon was positioned to become not only the company’s most important customer but a part-owner.

Amazon was leasing six ATSG Boeing 767s to assist in the delivery side of its business, ATSG said in March. The agreement lets Amazon lease up to 20 of the planes.

John Haber, founder of Atlanta-based supply chain consultant Spend Management Experts, said the number of flights affected by the strike are a “big deal,” especially during the Christmas shopping season. DHL operates on a much smaller basis in the U.S. market, compared to Amazon, while Amazon’s Wilmington flights are part of the online retailer’s new air cargo network, he said.

“It’s Black Friday week,” Haber said. “In the overall scope of things, is it a massive amount of volume? It’s not massive, but it’s not good.”

“The Teamsters are pretty crafty,” he added. “They have more leverage this week than pretty much any time other than maybe the week or two before Christmas.”

In the long run, the strike may hurt ATSG more than Amazon simply because ATSG is smaller, Haber said.

“Amazon has a lot more leverage if this thing draws out,” he said.

Finding another air cargo carrier quickly may be difficult even for the huge online retailer, Haber said.

Bottom line, the longer the strike goes on, the more likely it is there could be a “domino effect,” he said.

Said Haber, “I’m sure they (Amazon) were planning on those 30 airplanes being in use today and tomorrow.”

Randy Riesbeck, a striking pilot, said ABX is violating its contract with the union, forcing him to fly more than 40 days he should have had off. Other pilots face similar situations, having flown a total of more than 8,000 extra days in excessive “emergency assignments,” he and other striking pilots said.

“It’s very tiring, very fatiguing on the body,” Riesbeck told WHIO-TV.

Union negotiators have proposed what he called a “workable solution.” He said the union regrets that shipments may be late, but he added: “ABX has left us with no choice.”

David Wagenseller of Wilmington was shopping for new TVs Tuesday at the Best Buy store near the Dayton Mall.

“We are frequent shoppers of Amazon,” Wagenseller said. “I actually just heard this news this morning so it’s concerning because Amazon has been huge for our local community in the Clinton County, Wilmington area.”

“I certainly hope that does not happen,” he added.

Earlier this month, a federal court judge rejected a request by ABX Air for a temporary restraining order against its pilots and their union, the Teamsters noted in a release from Berlin Rosen, the union’s public relations firm.

Judge Timothy S. Black of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio, wrote that he denied the restraining order because the “court lacks jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims.”

Pilots picketed Tuesday outside ABX Air’s headquarters in Wilmington and outside DHL’s North American hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport.

ATSG’s subsidiaries include ABX Air, Inc.; Airborne Global Solutions, Inc.; Air Transport International, Inc.; Cargo Aircraft Management, Inc. and other companies.

Last month, the Teamsters asked the National Mediation Board to investigate ATSG.

ATSG owns ABX Air and Air Transport International Inc. The union contends the ATSG operates the two carriers as a single transportation system while “maintaining a facade of two separate carriers,” the union said in a statement.

“Historically, airline holding companies have owned and operated multiple airline subsidiaries and kept them separate from one another for various reasons, some of which were designed to artificially suppress labor costs and conditions. The historical model no longer works due to vastly changed economic conditions affecting the airline industry, including the increasingly dire shortage of pilots across the world, which are now straining airlines’ ability to efficiently, effectively and safely serve their customers,” the Teamsters said in an Oct. 27 statement.

Staff Writer Rachel Murray and WHIO-TV reporter Gabrielle Enright contributed to this story.

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